Wednesday, June 4, 2008

NBA Finals Preview Part II: Why We Don't Give A Damn About Your Rivalry

I don't care about Larry Bird.

Okay, that sounds callous. I care about him in the same context of how I care about Jack White, or the Pope, or Tony Shalhoub. I care about him in that he's a human, he's alive, I have nothing personal against him, and as such I wish him nothing but happiness.

But I don't care about Larry Bird.

This series isn't more interesting because Bird won three championships two decades ago with one of the teams. Likewise, this series isn't more interesting because Magic Johnson's image in universally intertwined with the purple and gold.

I don't care about Magic Johnson, either.

We're in the minority on this one, and we're okay with that. There are enough people out there salivating over the renewed rivalry between Boston and LA and are more than happy to immediately tell you about their experiences watching the titanic battles these two teams had in the 60's and 80's. You're not going to have any lack of those that find this series beautiful because of two teams that played "the right way" back in the day. The series hasn't even started and already I've seen more highlights from the 80's than a Bangles retrospective.

It's not that we don't respect the history. We do. If you want to discuss the greatest players of all time, the greatest rivalries of all time, the greatest moments in NBA history, Lakers-Celtics is going to dominate the conversations. But guess what? Larry Bird's not walking through that door. Kevin Garnett is. And he's no slouch.

We'll wait for another time to get into the ridiculous "The game was so much better then" arguments. Needless to say, we'll take the speed, refinement, athleticism, and in-game modifications of today, thanks. You enjoy ESPN Classic and Ben Gay. Just remember to pick us up from the movies at 10, Grandpa. We promise we'll try and slow down when we're going through your damn neighborhood. In all honesty, the argument is useless regardless. There's no way to quantifiably evaluate two different eras with as many factors as that. We'll concede, roll our eyes, and move on.

But this series shouldn't be made into Larry Bird and Magic, Kareem and McHale. It should be about Kobe, about Garnett. It should be Pau Gasol's coming out party, and Paul Pierce's comeback album. It should make The Machine a household name, and make America fall in love with Rondo's freakish fingers. It should add a turbo boost to an already surging league, and get the people that have bagged on the league off our shorts for a while. It deserves better than to be relegated to some cheap sequel with different actors in the lead roles.

You've got a Hall of Fame Coach, one of the best defensive coaches in the league (an assistant at that), and two fanbases that are polar opposites.

You can have a healthy respect for history without relying on comparisons to or forcing symmetry with a section of players and staff that existed 20 years ago.

We have something special on our hands, people. Let's not blow it.

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